Pioneering art dealer Virginia Dwan, who was instrumental in creating the Minimalism, Conceptualism and Land Art movements, has died aged 90.
It was Dwan who helped fund landmark works such as Michael Heizer Double negative (1969), two huge trenches dug in the Moapa Valley in Nevada, and that of Robert Smithson spiral jetty (1970), a monumental coil of basalt rock off Utah’s Great Salt Lake. She also gave a loan to Heizer to buy the land on which to build her magnum opus, Townwhich finally opened this month, and commissioned the first version of Walter de Maria lightning field.
Supporting such complex undertakings required visionary thinking. But it was the scale of these projects that made Dwan want to help with the work.
“A canvas has limits; there is a limit. And for earthmoving, it was the openness and the feeling that there were no boundaries that made it so exciting,” she said. Interview magazine in 2015. “For me, it wasn’t a leap of faith. I was delighted.
Although Dwan, whose death was first reported by ART newsdid not complete her art studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, she opened her first gallery in the city in 1959.
“I’ve wanted to have a gallery for a while, even though I didn’t know anything about it, really,” Dwan said. art forum in 2014. “I just went ahead and did it anyway – the Innocent Abroad kind of thing.”
Born in Minneapolis in 1931, Dwan was one of 17 heirs to conglomerate 3M, a health care and consumer goods company perhaps best known for its adhesives. It was this legacy that helped lay the foundation for his business and allowed Dwan to act as a patron to so many artists. (The New York Times once dubbed “a jet-age Medici”.)
“I must acknowledge the fact that I myself had a private income which enabled me to take a more idealistic position or devote myself more to the artist than perhaps many other dealers would” , Dwan said in an interview. with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington, DC “I knew I was going to be able to keep the doors open.”
Dwan went on to exhibit Ad Reinhardt, Edward Kienholz, Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline and Philip Guston. For Mark di Suvero, she drilled a hole in the ceiling of the gallery to accommodate a work higher than the space. In 1961, she offered the French artist Yves Klein his first exhibition in the United States. Robert Rauschenberg’s first West Coast outing was the following year.
(Despite his status as a drug dealer, Dwan, perhaps a product of his time, ran a kind of boys’ club.)
Also in 1962, shortly after Andy Warhol’s famous first exhibition at the Ferus Gallery, also in Los Angeles, Dwan organized one of the country’s first Pop Art exhibitions. Titled “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, it featured works by artists such as Marisol, John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann.
In 1965, Dwan opened a second location in New York, becoming the nation’s first bi-coastal gallery.
“Art history has validated his taste,” James Meyer, then chief curator and deputy director of the Dia Art Foundation, which owns spiral jettyTold vogue in 2016, on the occasion of an exhibition devoted to Dwan at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
The exhibition featured selections from the Dwan Gallery Archive at the Smithsonian’s American Art Archive, as well as 100 of the 250 works it had promised to the museum, by artists including Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Agnes Martin, Jean Tinguely and Sol LeWitt.
While Dwan’s legacy is undeniable, her mercantile career ended prematurely, in part due to her unwillingness to compromise by showing more commercially appealing work. She closed her LA location in 1967, before closing entirely in 1971 to devote herself to film and photography.
Later projects included the Dwan Shrine of Lighta collaboration with solar spectrum artist Charles Ross and architect Laban Wingert, which opened in 1996 at the United World College in Montezuma, New Mexico,
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